Even though dinosaurs have been extinct for many millions of years it wasn’t until the 1800’s that the bones they left behind was discovered and recorded. It is known that the discovery of dinosaurs could have happened as far back as 3000 years ago. All we have to do is study the Roman’s griffin that was so important to them which we believe to have stemmed from the finding of dinosaur bones and the Chinese that have held “Dragons” in their culture for many thousands of years and was documented in a book called Hua Yang Guo Zhi by zhang Qu during the Western Jin Dynasty. These are not recognized by the scientific world but there are facts about dinosaurs recorded from the 1600’s.
The first dinosaur bone that was found was by Rev. Robert Plot. The “Giant” bone that was found was thought to be that of a giant but he described Scrotum Humanum in the Natural History of Oxford shire. This is now known as the distal end of a dinosaurian femur or thigh bone.
George Cuvier: The birth of paleontology
It was George Cuvier that really found the first recorded dinosaur find. It was in the found in the form of a slab of chalk with giant jaws that was discovered in a chalk quarry in the town of Maastrict in the Netherlands but this town was sacked by Napoleon’s army in 1795 destroying the fossil. However the great a French anatomist George Cuvier did describe it as a giant extinct marine lizard in 1808. George named this lizard Mosasaurus or Meuse lizard which was a river near the town of Maastricht. Despite this being something totally new, Cuvier was correct in his interpretation.
Cuvier compared the structure of the skeleton of the skull of the Mosasaurus with that of varanid lizards. He noticed there were differences between the two and that Mosasaurus was far more similar to lizards than to anything else. He also used the principle of correlation of the parts, where the form of one set of structures is shared between two species. He assumed that the closer that a skull of one species is to another it is logical to think that the rest of the skeleton would be similar also. Cuvier did recognize how important extinctions were. He concluded that extinctions are a fundamental feature of the geological record. Today he would be known as a catastrophist. This man set the road for more discoveries. Paleontology was finally born.
Lewis and Clark discovery
The Lewis and Clark expedition to find a Northwest Passage was set up by Thomas Jefferson but part of this trip was to find remains of the Mastodons dead or alive and other extinct animal fossils that were on their list. They found a giant leg bone near Billings, Montana in 1806 that was certainly a dinosaur. Of course, their search for live ones was unsuccessful.
There were so many that contributed to the discovery of dinosaur fossils, such as Gideon and Mary Ann Mantell. They found fragmentary remains of a very large animal. It would later be named by Mantell who called it Iguanodon. At first Mantell thought it might have belonged to a giant Iguana. The teeth he found were similar to the teeth of an extant lizard. They would go on to find more and finally almost a complete skeleton of an Iguanodon they called Maidstone Iguanodon. This allowed Gideon a reconstruction of this fossil. Mantell also found a bone that he thought was a horn at the time but it was later found to be a thumb.
This was only the beginning of the discovery of dinosaurs. It went on to include such people as Edward Hitchcock who found tracks of a giant bird, William Buckley who found the remains of what he named Megalosaurus, Sir Richard Owen who was an intellectual successor to Cuvier. Joseph Leidy with his opinions on what he had researched up to that point and had the effect of revolutionizing the reconstruction of dinosaurs. There were many other “first” in discoveries over the years.
In 1970 the dinosaur Renaissance started. There was a surge in dinosaur research like never before and it is still ongoing. This is due to the discovery of Deinonychus which was an active predator and most of all it was warm blooded. It was discovered by John Ostrom and in a big way, changed the thoughts of paleontologist in regards to the dinosaur. Up to that point it was thought that dinosaurs were cold blooded animals that were sluggish and slow moving it was an exciting time when this was proven otherwise. This is when vertebrate paleontology came into being as a global science.
Scientist has made major discoveries in places such as India, South America, Madagascar, Antarctic and the most significant in China. In China scientist found well preserved feathered dinosaurs that consolidated the link between dinosaurs and their conjectured living descendants of the modern bird.
This is only the beginning in a way. The earlier paleontologist laid the foundation and today scientist are running with it and finding new and better ways in their research. Two hundred years of research is not enough to find all of the fossil remains of a species that spanned over millions of years. The search will continue and we find that every other week there are new discoveries. Cladistic analyzes combined with other modern techniques help to compensate for an often incomplete and fragmentary fossil record. The hunt for fossils will continue and with better research being done it opens a world of possibilities for the future. The history of dinosaur discovery is just starting and will soar into our future.